Many young black males grow up in communities around London, fearing abuse and harassment by the police because of the negative stereotypes placed on them as criminals. For this reason, at times when young black males and police officers do interact, there are altercations and confrontations rather than cooperation and safeguarding. I write today to initiate conversation and present the side of the story from young black males from different areas in London who have spoken in order to share their lived experiences with legal enforcement. This is not the full story, but it is the chapter of the book that listens to minority voices.
How would you describe your relationship with the Police?
‘‘They stop us all the time, they watch us all the time, with us they seem to have a lot of time on their hands’’. You would think with the amount of time the police spent on our estates and at our schools, that over the years we would have formed a close-knit bond. However, time has often been spent under interrogation and intimidation, rather than understanding and conversation. They refer to us as gang members, yet we see them as the biggest gang in our community; however, our actions are prosecuted, but theirs justified. It is a relationship where communication is often misunderstood and preconceive opinions continue to dictate our interactions. Brian spoke of his relationship being ‘strained and broken’, Joshua mentioned that he ’felt there was no relationship at all’, Michael spoke of a fractured relationship due to stereotypes and a lack of trust between both parties. Our broken relationship with the police has broken minority communities and perverted the criminal justice system. Nonetheless, Tyler teaches us a lesson, and speaks on how we can repair our relationship with the police. Tyler spoke of his relationship being amicable, as he consciously takes steps to smile and encourage conversations with the police on the streets in order to ‘’create a new narrative that can benefit others from my community who suffer from the impacts of police stereotyping.’’
How would you define the role of the police?
How we see the role of the police is completely different to how we see the police in truth. On paper, we all agreed that the police are to serve the community by maintaining its order and ensuring its safety ,whilst working to protect and enforce the rights of every individual member of the community. Brian ascribed the nature of a police officer as a ‘protector and peacemaker’. Yet, in truth we witness within our communities the police daily abuse its powers when relating with minorities through threatening behaviour as a means to assert their authority upon the most vulnerable. The role of the police does not change and neither does its powers when they are entrusted to serve different communities and when they encounter a range of different people. Therefore, the question remains; why us every day? Does the colour of my skin, the clothes I wear, my place of residence provide you with a ‘reasonable suspicion of an offence’, to stop me every day? We could be coming back from school, work, or football training, and we will be stopped and asked the same questions over and over again, such as ‘are you known to the police?’ or ‘could you come out of the car?’
Now according to our last census, the black community accounted for 13.3% of the London population. However, Matt Ashby of UCL Institute of security and crime science, records that ‘men aged 18-24 identifying as Black were on-average 19 times more likely to be searched than the population at large’ (https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk). The Home affairs also reported in 2019 that ‘the proportion of BME boys and men behind bars in YOIs in England Wales is nearly four times the 14% of BME proportion of the wider UK.’ (https://www.theguardian.com). We as young black males feel targeted by the police, yet the police continue to justify their methods by saying we fit the specified description for the criminal offence. These studies suggest, that we must start working towards how we can prevent racial discrimination against young black males within the criminal justice system.
Have you ever called the police before?
A distant and strained relationship has prevented us from calling upon the police when faced with danger. As a result, many young black males out of fear feel the need to protect themselves and their families to which they end up being victims or perpetrators of criminal activity. Joshua mentioned being more fearful of the police than any other group in the community, because of the psychiatric harm suffered on the back end of police interrogation and harassment. Joshua from a young age suffered from anxiety and fear because of his lived experiences with legal enforcement agencies. Joshua, who has never committed criminal activity before, was monitored by the police daily with the hope of proving some sort of illegal wrongdoing. We all grew up on estates, where we witnessed criminal activity within our surroundings, and not once did the police come over to us and ask if we were okay; their prejudice against us which saw us as perpetrators rather than potential victims prevented them from doing their job to which they struggled to make our communities safe.
They did not trust us because we were black, so we could not trust them because of their racial bias towards us. Tyler acknowledges that minorities and the police have assigned labels towards each other; we as young black males have at times identified all police officers as racist because of our personal experiences with one or two officers. We have neglected the truth which is there are many officers who are of honest and good moral character, who sacrifice their lives daily to ensure our communities are protected. Today calls for conversations and cooperation between minorities and the police to ensure our criminal justice system is fair and our communities are safe.
By Johnathan Akindutire
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